Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Tampa officers, Morris trial is personal

TAMPA — For the Tampa police officers in courtroom 51, the evidence is personal. The victims are their friends.

Officers regularly testify about cases they have investigated, but in the capital murder case of Dontae Morris, they are talking about the deaths of co-workers. Some sat in the audience this week as a show of support.

Officer Steven Roy was the first to the scene on June 29, 2010, after Officers Jeffrey Kocab and Dave Curtis were each shot in the head. A sob caught in Roy's throat earlier this week when a lawyer asked him to testify about that night. He wrinkled his face and looked down.

Tampa Detective Ron Paulk watched from the audience. He had also rushed to the scene that early morning. On Tuesday, he wore a gray sports coat, blue tie, and a dime-size police badge pin with a blue line — a symbol of police standing between good and evil.

Later, outside the courtroom, he quietly chatted with a co-worker, Officer Bill Logan, who was the second to arrive at the scene. They share memories they wish they didn't have.

"But for the grace of God, it could have been Bill or I," Paulk told a reporter.

A handful of officers watched the trial each day, dressed in suits to avoid influencing the jury with their blue uniforms. They didn't show up in droves, as their police chief had said they could Friday in an email.

They say they want to ensure the victims' families have seats first. Many are getting their information from news reports.

"We still have jobs to do," said Tampa police Capt. Brian Dugan, who plans to monitor the trial all week because it involves the homicide department, which he oversees.

Those who stopped by court say they did it for one main reason: to show support for the families of Curtis and Kocab, and they had even attended jury selection in Orlando last week.

The mood was somber. Officers spoke in hushed voices outside the courtroom.

"It's been a long time coming," Paulk said.

Police shootings are unique: The investigators have emotional connections. They band together and talk of a "brotherhood." Another name is chiseled into a memorial. The slain are honored each year at a national gathering in Washington, D.C.

Law enforcement officers with no connection to each other feel the bond and share sorrow. One potential juror last week told the judge that, as a retired officer from Illinois, he considers officer killings a "personal affront."

"Obviously, any time a police officer gets killed in the line of duty, we're very concerned," Dugan said. "I'm here to support the families and be sure that justice gets done."

The trial is personal for Chief Jane Castor, too. The officers' deaths were by far the toughest trial she has experienced as chief, she told the Tampa Bay Times.

Like others in her agency, she did not have time to immediately grieve. The manhunt for Morris lasted four days. She was writing a eulogy for the slain officers when she got a call that, finally, they had Morris.

But even with an arrest, grief lingered.

Tampa police Sgt. Mark Delage and Officer Veronica Hamilton are trained in dealing with post-incident stress. They have counseled many in the department after the officers' slayings. Even Castor sought help.

For her, the toughest part is seeing Officer Curtis' four young sons grow up without a father.

"Just for no reason," she said. "You just think of the fundamental unfairness of it all."

Delage and Hamilton were in Orlando last week and in Hills­borough's court this week. In the email Castor sent Friday, she thanked the pair for their help, and she advised her officers.

"Make sure you take care of yourselves," she wrote, "and watch out for each other."

Times staff writer Peter Jamison contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

For Tampa officers, Morris trial is personal 11/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 11:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rowdies shut out at Pittsburgh


    PITTSBURGH — The Rowdies lost their first USL game in nearly a month, 1-0 to Pittsburgh on Thursday night.

  2. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  3. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick tonight in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  5. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.